After The Eastern Door reported last month that residents of Kwe 55 were cut off from social assistance and medical transport services, local organizations are working to address the shortfalls.
“Like in any new situation, there will always be crinkles, once we become aware of them,” said Derek Montour, executive director of Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), a partner in the project.
“In this case, we’ve had a golden opportunity to be able to provide residential services to people who were homeless or didn’t have homes, or didn’t have effective homes, let’s say.”
While Kwe 55, an affordable housing complex in Chateauguay with a minimum of five units reserved for Kahnawa’kehró:non, was hailed as a much-needed pressure valve for Kahnawake’s housing shortage, its location just off-territory has caused bureaucratic headaches for some of the community’s most vulnerable members.
“There has been movement on it in our offices,” said Alexis Shackleton, director of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) Client-Based Services department (CBS), which processes social assistance in Kahnawake. Kwe 55 residents are not eligible to receive welfare through the office.
“We are aware of certain situations or factors, but it’s nothing I can comment on because it’s personal,” she said. The office has been conferring on individual cases since learning about the situation, she said.
At least one resident, Lyle R. McComber, went about six weeks without income after he faced delays when applying for social assistance through Quebec.
While McComber has now received a payment from the province, he said it is missing a component relating to medical issues. “$770 would be great in 1985, but not now. Quebec needs to get real and with the times,” he said.
His cheque is more than $400 short of what he was receiving in Kahnawake, he added.
“That really concerns me if there’s such a difference,” said Shackleton when such a large discrepancy was posed by The Eastern Door.
While CBS processes social assistance cases, it does so according to the provincial framework, Shackleton said, with the funding coming from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
She speculated some difference may arise from the inflation benefit offered in Kahnawake, currently set at $200 per month, and that a missing component could be attributable to an incomplete file.
A lack of medical transport services was another alarming revelation, with one resident who suffers from mobility issues and uses a cane having to take a public bus to a stop a half-hour walk away from their appointment at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC).
The medical transport service, run by the Kahnawake Fire Brigade (KFB), is only allowed to operate inside the territory according to its funding agreement with Health Canada. KFB fire chief David Scott had told The Eastern Door he worried the program could be jeopardized if the service left the territory.
However, according to Scott, the KFB will begin transporting residents to and from Kwe 55 beginning today, September 1, following assurances from Montour that KSCS has its back.
“I feel confident with them on board that Health Canada will recognize the fact there’s a need for this, and we’re going to move forward,” said Scott.
He emphasized the service is only for Kahnawa’kehró:non and transport can only be to and from Kwe 55.
“They have housing off-territory that needs servicing, and it’s all people from town, so we need to take care of them. I’m not worried about the funding now that (KSCS) is on side,” said Scott.
According to Montour, there are currently 10 Kahnawa’kehró:non living at Kwe 55.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, September 1, in issue 32.35 of The Eastern Door.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.